The man who lost his life in a Northland glider crash was energetic, flamboyant, and an endless source of inspiration to his family and many friends.
An estimated 300 people attended a celebration of Ricco Legler's life at the Duke of Marlborough Hotel in Russell on Sunday. The turnout was so big — a who's who of the Bay's sailing and music communities — about 100 people had to follow the speeches from the balcony outside.
Italian-born Mr Legler, 72, a life-long aviation enthusiast and one of Russell's great characters, failed to return from a solo flight on November 16. The wreckage of his glider was found on farmland near Kaikohe aerodrome a few hours later.
His wife, Marina Formannoij Legler, said he had been named after his uncle Ricco who died in a gliding accident on August 1, 1945 — one day before Mr Legler was born.
''He carried the charisma of his uncle all those years and he died doing what he loved. I hope it was a happy moment for him up there in the sky,'' she said.
They had had an ''amazing'' 28 years together and the electricity between them had never dimmed, she said.
GP Chris Reid described his friend and neighbour as a meticulous thinker who loved an impassioned debate, and was years ahead of his time in the way he embraced living off the grid, organic food and electric vehicles.
A gifted singer and guitarist, he was the star of Russell Ukulele Orchestra and formed a "wonderful double act" with Marina.
Dr Reid's fondest memories came from the times the neighbourhood would get roped in to picking grapes on winemaker Antonio Pasquale's vineyard, and the sound of Mr Legler singing love songs in Italian to his wife would come wafting through the vines.
Mr Legler first took up gliding at the age of 11. He also flew paragliders and learnt to fly helicopters.
He studied architecture and moved to New Zealand in 1991 with Marina and three children from his first marriage to Gitta. He farmed at Taronui, north of Kerikeri, before planting the land in forest.
He built an innovative catamaran, dubbed Jimmy, and moved to Russell eight years ago to spend more time gliding, sailing and making music.
Keith Falla, of Kaikohe Gliding Club, said Mr Legler had been a valued member for more than 20 years, describing him as ''young at heart, outgoing, and loved by everybody".
Ben Tombs, who helped build Jimmy, said: "Sometimes you meet people who make you better than you are. He was one of those people."
Richard Fladgate recalled his impressions when Mr Legler first arrived in Kerikeri.
''When he hit town all those years ago, with his purple hair and his lavalava, it was, 'Wow, who is this guy?' He took us by storm."
Eldest son Li Legler spoke of the way his father had enriched his life with music, stories and adventures; while daughter Laila described his love for family, especially his four grandchildren. If he had seen Sunday's turnout, he would have said: ''What's all the fuss about? Let's party!''
And party is exactly what they did, a band made up of friends and family — with Marina on lead vocals — playing his favourite songs.